Theater News

Historical Pageant

Anne Washburn’s world premiere play at ART, The Communist Dracula Pageant, follows the last days of Romanian dictators Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu.

A scene from The Communist Dracula Pageant
(© Michael J. Lutch)
A scene from The Communist Dracula Pageant
(© Michael J. Lutch)

Anne Washburn’s world premiere play The Communist Dracula Pageant, at Boston’s American Repertory Theatre, is about the Romanian Revolution of 1989, but carries the curious subtitle “By Americans, For Americans.” While the story follows the last days of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu, the husband and wife communist dictators who ruled Romania from 1965 to 1989, director Anne Kauffman explains the subtitle. “It’s very important that an audience understands that we weren’t there; this is an interpretation of the story through our eyes,” she notes.

Kauffman’s concern stems from the fact that the 1989 revolution remains hugely controversial in the eyes of many Romanians. “This play is really about a stolen revolution. The people thought that it was started by them. It is believed, although not proven these 20 years later, that the revolution was usurped by Ion Illiescu (the president of Romania until 2004) and the ‘rejected’ old guard.” Interspersed with the story of the Ceausescus is a pageant-style telling of the story of Vlad Tepes, better known as Dracula, which the playwright is using “to show how we harness a national myth to justify policy or a cult following,” adds Kauffman.

The production incorporates moving walls, projections, blue screens, 101 costumes on 16 actors, and 1980s era film equipment. “We’re mixing theater with television, because this was the first televised revolution; it was able to incite the whole country to action,” she says. In fact, video artifacts from the 1989 revolution are widely viewable on YouTube, including the trial of the Ceausescus, the moments immediately before and after their execution, and the moment that Illiescu and the other revolutionaries took over the Romanian television station in Bucharest. "We tried to replicate the television station video as closely as possible,” says Kauffman. “Any event for which there is video, we have recreated live on stage in a documentary-style way."

While Kauffman declares that her production has not been influenced by current events in America, she admits, “We timed this play for the election to speak about the pageant-making that is politics. It seems even more relevant in this particular election. There’s so much theater going on.”

Featured In This Story

The Communist Dracula Pageant

Closed: November 9, 2008